The Book Worm: Review: Why I Left Goldman Sachs

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Review: Why I Left Goldman Sachs

why I left goldman sachs, book review


On March 14, 2012, more than three million people read Greg Smith's bombshell Op-Ed in the New York Times titled "Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs." The column immediately went viral, became a worldwide trending topic on Twitter, and drew passionate responses from former Fed chairman Paul Volcker, legendary General Electric CEO Jack Welch, and New York City mayor Mike Bloomberg. Mostly, though, it hit a nerve among the general public who question the role of Wall Street in society -- and the callous "take-the-money-and-run" mentality that brought the world economy to its knees a few short years ago. Smith now picks up where his Op-Ed left off.
His story begins in the summer of 2000, when an idealistic 21-year-old arrives as an intern at Goldman Sachs and learns about the firm's Business Principle #1: Our clients' interests always come first. This remains Smith's mantra as he rises from intern to analyst to sales trader, with clients controlling assets of more than a trillion dollars.
From the shenanigans of his summer internship during the technology bubble to Las Vegas hot tubs and the excesses of the real estate boom; from the career lifeline he received from an NFL Hall of Famer during the bear market to the day Warren Buffett came to save Goldman Sachs from extinction-Smith will take the reader on his personal journey through the firm, and bring us inside the world's most powerful bank.
Smith describes in page-turning detail how the most storied investment bank on Wall Street went from taking iconic companies like Ford, Sears, and Microsoft public to becoming a "vampire squid" that referred to its clients as "muppets" and paid the government a record half-billion dollars to settle SEC charges. He shows the evolution of Wall Street into an industry riddled with conflicts of interest and a profit-at-all-costs mentality: a perfectly rigged game at the expense of the economy and the society at large.
After conversations with nine Goldman Sachs partners over a twelve-month period proved fruitless, Smith came to believe that the only way the system would ever change was for an insider to finally speak out publicly. He walked away from his career and took matters into his own hands. This is his story.
Genre: non-fiction

Publishing date: October 2012

Mature content: no

Review: this is a very cleverly written book, and while I understand it may not be interesting to all audiences, I also honestly believe everyone should read it, as it contains life lessons that extend well beyond the financial world. 
I started working in investment banking only three years before Greg's internship at Goldman Sachs in 2001, and in the nearly two decades since then I have, like him, seen the good, the bad and the ugly. In the financial world, as in other jobs, people sometimes find themselves walking the thin line between doing what they, in their minds and hearts, think it's right, and what their bosses request of them (and what, bottom line, pays their salary and feeds their families). It takes courage to do what Greg did, especially taking into account that Goldman Sachs was his first real job, his dream job. 
The book accompanies Greg's career at Goldman Sachs, from his very first day on the job, to his very last, (when he resigned mainly for, allegedly, not agreeing with the bank's policy towards its clients) with a compelling description of everything that happened in between, from September 11th to the financial crisis that started in 2007. It's not overly long and it's a very easy read, even if you're not familiar with financial jargon and you've never been inside a trading room before. There's nothing really scandalous in this book, no big revelations, and some have said that the lack of detail hints that not all of it may be true. There has been a lot of controversy about the book, and Goldman Sachs has obviously denied most of the charges and justified Greg's complaints with the fact that he'd been denied a promotion and a raise. Books written by people dissing their former employees, and the chain reactions they cause, should always be taken with a grain of salt. 
Still, if you forget for a minute name calling and finger pointing, what Why I Left Goldman Sachs clearly shows is that, when faced with a severe crisis and the need to maintain profit levels, management doesn't always make the decisions that are better for employees, customers and tax payers. And this is true not only of banks but also of all other sorts of companies and even governments and politicians. We all know it, we've all seen it happen.

And, if all else fails, this book still provides you with some general culture on how major investment banks work, or how they should, ideally, work. It may not be a masterpiece of literature, but I still recommend it. 

Happy readings!


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